In some respects, popularity can be a good thing, but for Signal Hill’s hilltop community, it seems to be attracting more trouble than accolades.
The picturesque views, steep inclines and ocean breezes have brought people from far and wide to the hilltop area of Signal Hill, making it one of the top spots in Los Angeles County for hiking trails.
On a daily basis, runners, joggers, walkers, bicyclers, baby strollers and thrill seekers– whether from organized fitness groups or not– take to the area’s highest peak, which is historically known as “Porcupine Hill” since it was once speckled with oil derricks.
But residents of hilltop homes and condos have expressed concerns about the influx of runners and walkers, claiming the roads as their personal training camps in addition to incidents of vandalism and parking problems.
Similar issues were raised about two years ago, and in May the Signal Hill City Council passed a new ordinance to regulate conduct in parks and open spaces, requiring fitness groups pay for permits, particularly for using Discovery Well Park and Hilltop Park.
Still, residents at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 16 said problems continue to resurface.
“I think we need to restart the dialogue about this problem,” said hilltop resident Chan Brainard, who spoke during public comment about the increasing number of people walking and running in streets. “No pun intended, we’re on a collision course. Somebody at some point is going to get hit and killed.”
Gary Dudley, a Signal Hill parks and recreation commissioner who lives on Panorama Drive, also expressed concerns of people walking and running in groups, taking over the roadways. He suggested working with representatives of local health clubs to make them more aware of the risks of training on the streets.
Signal Hill Councilmember Tina Hansen, who lives at the base of the hill on 21st Street, sympathized with the residents, emphasizing the dangers of various corners and intersections in which drivers can become blinded by the sun and unable to see oncoming pedestrians.
“We are a unique city in having this particular issue,” she said. “I mean, there are so many potentials here for problems.”
After direction from Hansen, City Manager Ken Farfsing agreed to form a task force of department heads to address the residents’ various concerns.
Police Chief Michael Langston noted, however, that about two years ago the same issues came up and the police department initiated a campaign to post signs and encourage people to not walk or run in the streets.
Langston said, unless pedestrians are impeding traffic, there’s still not much that police officers can do in terms of enforcement or writing citations. According to vehicle code, it’s not illegal to walk or run in the roadway as long as traffic isn’t impeded, he said, adding that there is no data showing joggers have caused injury-related collisions, which is what the department focuses on the most.
“Certainly a crowd walking up and down the street is not safe, but if they’re not impeding traffic per se, then there’s not a violation there,” Langston said.
Even so, Langston said he would look at new ways to address potential conflicts between exercisers and drivers. “Obviously, we’re going to have to look at this from a different perspective and take some other action to address the problem,” he said.
Not all concerns were related to traffic, however.
Richard Moreno, a Skyline Drive resident, called for increased police presence to deter neighborhood disturbances, including joggers yelling as early as 3:30am and 4am and partiers carrying on at all hours of the night.
“I was hoping that maybe we could find a way to get some police vehicles up there to camp out over night, maybe on the weekend, and remind people that it’s not a nightclub and it’s also not a gym,” Moreno said. “It’s a residential area, not a health club.”
Some residents reported incidents of vandalism, including broken mirrors and glass. Dennis Petersen, who has lived on Skyline Drive for the past eight years, also called for police to step up patrols in the area.
“More police patrol and random enforcement could send the message that Signal Hill is the place to enjoy but not a place to commit costly vandalism,” he said.
Langston said he has already been in talks with the City’s contracted security company that patrols the hilltop area and parks from 10pm to 2am. He said the company has agreed to engage people and escort them out of the public parks after hours, in addition to installing sensors at specific locations.
Other residents said the City has not properly addressed parking problems.
Pat Bledsoe, who lives at 21st Street and Junipero Avenue, said a temporary “no parking” sign was placed in front of her home on July 2 and July 4. She said city officials told her the signs were posted to alleviate traffic congestion and to deter people from parking there on the 4th of July holiday.
Bledsoe also said the intersection has been fraught with drivers speeding and knocking over a stop sign. She added that she struggles to find parking and has a hard time pulling in and out of her driveway and that the traffic flow needs to be addressed.
At the end of the Council meeting, Farfsing said he would have City staff look into it.
Introductions and presentations
During the Council meeting, Mayor Michael Noll and Chief Langston introduced recently promoted Police Capt. Chris Nunley and Police Lt. Mel Krizo of the Signal Hill Police Department (SHPD).
Nunley, who joined the SHPD in 1997 starting as a police cadet and most recently served as the administrative lieutenant, assumed his duties on July 12 after former Capt. Ronald Mark retired from the police force after 31 years in law-enforcement.
Krizo has been with the SHPD since 1991 and previously served as a police officer for the Long Beach Police Department. Krizo, who serves as the City’s emergency operations center manager and was a sergeant for three years, will be responsible for leadership and oversight of the operations division.
Also recognized during the Council meeting were: Perla Perez, a new, full-time police-records clerk; Delia Martinez, a new police officer; and Ruby Garcia, a Los Angeles County probation officer on assignment for the SHPD. Mayor Noll also presented Costco Wholesale the 2nd Quarter Sustainability Award, which the store’s warehouse manager Scott Kirby accepted.
Solid-waste collection fee
After holding a public hearing, the Council voted unanimously to approve a rate increase by EDCO Recycling & Waste Collection Services for residential, multi-family and commercial customers of Signal Hill.
For single-family residential units, the monthly rate increase is 23 cents or 69 cents per quarterly billing invoice issued by Signal Hill Waste and Recycling Services, according to a staff report. The monthly rate increase for multi-family and commercial customers depends on the number of carts or size of bin containers, as well as the frequency of collections each week, the staff report states.
Under a 2010 franchise agreement with the City, EDCO agreed to freeze residential rates for three years while solid-waste collection service rates for multi-family units and commercial establishments have not increased since 2008, according to City staff.
Following the state’s law, Proposition 218, the City mailed out notices to parcel owners in Signal Hill about the proposed increase, in addition to individual customers. The law requires that any property-related fee increase would be invalidated if more than 50 percent of affected parcel owners submit protests.
A City staff report states that 2,247 protests would represent a majority protest. According to city staff, however, the City only received two protests, although they were both from the same property owner.
The Council unanimously approved changes to the City’s oil code, that allow development to continue on properties near abandoned oil wells while still disallowing development directly over oil wells. The amendments include an urgency ordinance that took effect immediately after being approved.
After the state’s Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources changed their 22-year-old well-certification program in 2010, the City Council adopted a moratorium on issuing permits for structures located on top of abandoned oil wells to allow the City to conduct a comprehensive study on the changes. This interim ordinance is set to expire on Aug. 16.
According to city staff, the City, along with help from Signal Hill Petroleum and a contracted consultant, continue to research 700 wells in the Long Beach oil field that date back to as early as 1928. The new oil-code amendments allow further time to complete the comprehensive report.
Strategic Plan contract
The Council approved a contract agreement with Fullerton-based Kelly Associates Management Group in an amount not to exceed $21,000 for the consultant to formulate the City’s Strategic Plan, developing the City Council’s strategic agenda and its long-term goals for the next three to five years.
The City Council opted to award the contract even though Farfsing said the consultant was selected through his own recommendation and the City did not put out a request for proposals. The City’s last Strategic Plan was developed in 2005 and covered the time period from 2006 to 2011.
The next Signal Hill Council meeting will take place Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 7pm in the City’s Council Chamber.